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Am I Ready to Serve in the Church?

"Didn’t you repent of this last week? You lost your temper again. How could you ever be useful within the church? Do you think such a person belongs within the ministry?”. At the sound of these words, my eyes began to well up with tears. Though these questions came from my mind, I felt unable to stop them. While my eyes met Scripture every day, my heart felt the weight of my sin far more often. No one at my church saw my sin as regularly as I did. If they did, would they still be pleased to have me serve them? I answered for them, and in my head, they said, "no." The answer seemed obvious. How could I, being so sinful, be of service to other believers? How was I supposed to be hospitable and kind to them when I often fail to be those very things to the people closest to me? How could I share the Gospel when the God of the Gospel is so displeased with my sin?

While I knew I would become more Christ-like by God’s power, I still attempted to strive by my own means, which included withdrawing from serving in the church as much as possible. Serving others often made me feel like a phony. On top of this, I feared that serving within the church would tempt me to greater levels of pride, so I reasoned that avoiding it as much as I could would help me grow in godliness. I wanted to wait until I met a certain standard of holiness–a standard that I still haven't met.

Here I am now – still not as sanctified as I wish, wrestling with sin each day and remembering this is my life – one of service to the spirit, death to the flesh, and ministry within the body of Christ. Now, I’m at peace with the work God has given me and it’s not because I’ve realized my perfection, as that’ll never be the case. It’s because I’ve reckoned with a truth that I’ve known even before I became a Christian, and that is: I will fight sin until the day I die. More than this, I came to discover an even greater truth: In order to fight sin, I must serve within the church. If I desire to be sanctified, I must share the Gospel, encourage fellow believers, and work within youth ministry. My call to service in the church is also my call to holiness.

Then, what does service within the church look like? And is every Christian called to serve in whatever area the moment they become a believer? Of course not, but every Christian is called to serve no matter how early on they are in their Christian walk. In the early stages of my Christian walk, I was ready to serve by preparing snacks for the children’s ministry and helping set up events. I wasn’t knowledgeable enough to lead a Bible study; though I had zeal, I lacked sound doctrine in many areas. This is exactly the scenario Paul is referring to when he lays out the qualifications for elders, saying, “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:6). There are certain positions in ministry that new believers should wait to serve in; they aren’t disqualified, they are merely unqualified for this season. Meanwhile, there are some areas of service that some are disqualified. Scripture is clear that as a woman, I’m disqualified from the position of elder, just as the man who has failed to faithfully be a husband of one wife (1 Tim. 3:1-7). Still, this doesn’t prohibit a believer from serving in another capacity. Serving within another area of ministry as a recent convert may be the very thing that equips a person to serve within an area they feel more called to. This doesn’t disprove that all believers, including new converts, should serve within the church; instead, it proves that serving within the church sanctifies believers.

The Call for Every Christian to Serve in the Church

Choosing not to serve within the church creates a vicious cycle in the life of a believer. We chose not to serve because we are spiritually immature, and we are spiritually immature because we don’t serve. Yet, each Christian is commanded to serve in the body as Scripture says: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13). We should never wait to obey God because we feel stuck in our sin; that’s how we sink into further sin. If we always waited to act in righteousness until we felt ‘worthy’ and godly enough, there would be no church. Imagine if every believer waited to attend church until they felt pleased with their walk with God or waited to get baptized until they felt holy enough. If we all acted in this way, the body of Christ would look like a decaying piece of flesh.

That’s exactly what some of the churches Paul wrote to looked like. Though their churches contained believers, they looked spiritually dead because they acted as unbelievers. In his Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul lists a multitude of sins the Corinthians were guilty of that would seemingly leave them unqualified to serve within the church. The church at Corinth was plagued with division, sexual immorality, social snobbery, participation in pagan religions, and serious theological misunderstandings. In every manner, they seemed unworthy to use any spiritual gifts to serve in the church. Not only did they need a good rebuke from Paul, but it also seemed that they all needed a season to "work on themselves." They lived terribly ungodly lives, so how could God use them to be of service? How were they supposed to use gifts to build up the church when they tore down the church?

Yet, here is what God, through Paul, instructed them to do: to use their spiritual gifts to serve within the church. After explaining the variety of spiritual gifts, Paul affirms that they are "the body" – they are Christians who are given gifts to use to build up the church (1 Cor. 12:27-30). Then he tells them two times to "earnestly desire the spiritual gifts,” and the gifts that he desires for them are the “higher gifts” – especially that they would prophesy (12:31, 14:1). But why? They were divisive sinners who needed to become more godly before they should even desire to serve. But, here is the reason Paul gives for them to serve: that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another” (12:25). Service in the body was the means by which they would kill their sin of division and grow in godliness. That was how they would be spiritually revitalized, and that is how we may be sanctified.

The Gospel does not free us to a life of individualism; it frees us to a life of service. The message to Christians is opposed to the message of American success. It is not to work on yourself to create a better you so you can be a successful individual; it is to serve your brothers and sisters in Christ to become a godlier body of believers. We do not need to withdraw from service in the church to grow spiritually; we need to throw ourselves headlong into serving.

This is the call to every Christian as Scripture says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace” (1 Pet. 4:10). Our pastors and elders are not "the ministers," they are to make us all ministers: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12). May the snare of the devil be avoided by good works of love within the church.

"Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”

Romans 12:6-8


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